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What a map can tell you

A teaser of Jenny’s work.

One of my favorite design bloggers, Jenny Komenda of LittleGreenNotebook, is currently in the ICU in Brooklyn due to a severe case of tetanus.  Yep. I’ll bet all you who were terrorized by your dads about lockjaw thought we had conquered that bugaboo.  Apparently not.  The tetanus bacteria is still out there and the human body doesn’t usually develop immunity to it on its own.  You need to get booster shots periodically, about once a decade.  If you’re in doubt, just get the shot.

Fatality rates of tetanus are pretty high and as Jenny and her family have found out, it doesn’t matter what your family is like.  In this case, the Komendas were working on the backyard of their house a couple of weeks ago, about the time she was infected.  They were moving around discarded items in their weedy enclosed yard of the Brooklyn brownstone they just moved into.  I’m guessing that’s where she was infected.  It doesn’t take much.  From what I read of the course of tetanus, it’s going to take Jenny months to recover.  The muscle spasms taper off in about 4 weeks but the body has to regenerate damaged nerve axons and that will take much longer.  So, Jenny will be out of commission for awhile.  I’m anxious for her to get back to work because she’s one of the cleverest, elegant and resourceful designers on the web and her interior design business is booming.  She also has three little girls who I’m sure miss her dearly.

So, I was on wikipedia looking up basic info on tetanus when I saw this map.  This map is very revealing.  Take a look at it and tell me if you see the same thing I see:

World Health Organization map of frequency of tetanus infections by country

Here’s what I see: It should come as no surprise that poorer countries have higher rates of infection. There are some interesting exceptions to this rule, however.  The African countries of Gabon and Benin have rates that are close to those of the most developed countries of the world.  This may be a legacy of colonialism.  Gabon was once a French holding and I know one French Canadian who was a Canadian “peace corps” volunteer.  Maybe they’ve taken lessons from the Canadian healthcare system. The population of Gabon is low and the country is presently benefitting from petroleum wealth but this is expected to peter out in a about a decade.  Still, for a country that still has a 1/3 of its citizens living in poverty, they’re doing ok in terms of vaccinations.

What’s really striking is where we know that government has broken down, there are exceptionally high levels of infection.  The horn of Africa where Somalia is looks pretty bad, as does Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and the west coast of Africa.  Vietnam also seems to have a high rate of infection, I’m guessing as a legacy to years of war and forced integration of the two halves of the country.  But in general, where there are higher levels of corruption and political instability, the infection rate is higher.

One of the surprises: Iran.  Make what you will of that.  It probably has something to do with their oil wealth.  But Nigeria is also an oil rich nation and they’re pretty red.  So, Ahmedinejad and the Ayatollahs are some mighty mean Shiites but if you’re Iranian, the public health system is pretty good.  And note that central and South America is in pretty good shape as well.  Political turmoil has calmed down quite a bit over the past 30 years there.

Something to think about.  The less secure and more corrupt a government is, the greater the inequality, the more likely preventable diseases will become public health problems.